Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where it all started.

The image you see before you is the cover of Excalibur #1, the first comic book I ever owned. I remember very little about the story, even less about the art. What I do remember is the feeling of being blown away at the introduction of this artform to my life.

I remember the day as vividly as I remember the first time I kissed a girl, the first time I made love, the first time I saw the New York City skyline or the first time I saw my father cry. My class (and the one above me) was on a field trip to Nashville to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. I can remember being only mildly excited about seeing the circus but I was excited about spending some time out of school with my newest best friend, Jeff Brink.

Jeff was fantastic. He liked GI Joes, he had every great Nintendo game, he had cool older brothers, and his mom kept great snacks. Hanging out at the Brink house was always a blast. There was one thing, however, that Jeff was really into that I remained completely ignorant of: comic books. That all changed the day we went to the circus.

I can remember being inside the auditorium, surrounded on all sides by kids from other Middle Tennessee schools, just glad to be out of that stuffy, crowded school bus for a while. We were all sitting there, squirming and squealing and joking as kids are want to do, when they sent around a group of clowns (I think) to hand out orange drink, Jungle Juice, animal crackers and a stack of free comic books. Jeff was understandably excited and that excitement was contagious. He quickly took stock of the books they had handed us, deciding what had merit and what was worth ignoring. From my stack he pulled out Exalibur #1, informing me that it was an off-shoot of the X-Men books and therefore was cool. He didn't have such nice things to say about the Richie Rich book that accompanied it (I read it anyway).

The circus was unremarkable. Jeff and I spent the majority of it talking about comic books. He caught me up on what the X-Men were, what was going on in their world, and what I could expect from this Excalibur comic I was holding in my hands. The end of the circus couldn't come soon enough. I wanted to be a part of this wild world of brightly colored superheroes and hamfisted heroics.

I spent the whole bus ride back reading, both Excalibur and Richie Rich, loving every single panel, every single balloon, every single caption. When I was done with the books, Jeff continued my comic book education. It was an education that would continue throughout the course of our relationship. Pretty soon I was an X-Men expert, I knew there was more to Batman than Adam West, and I was shopping the wall of Mark's Cards & Comics (the local shop) with the longboxes, not the baseball cards. My love of comics was strong.

Jeff and I eventually drifted apart. We were at a tiny private Catholic school in my hometown which, for personal reasons, my parents pulled me out of after the fifth grade. Even at that age I had a problem with burning bridges even if they didn't need to be burned. Anyway, we lost touch, and with the loss of that friendship I lost some of my interest in comics for a while. It took Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Mark Waid to bring me back in.

But that's a story for another time.


  1. I love stories like this. I love that when you first learn about many super hero stories it is in the oral tradition. I heard the story of The Death of Pheonix years before I read the actual comics. Trying to penetrate the confusing comic book world mirrored my struggles to figure out the mechanics of the real world (still kinda does).
    I can remember playing a Marvel Memory game and didn't know who Rock Guy (The Thing) or Silly Mustache Superman (Dr. Strange)were. I can remember memorizing the secret identities out of the deck of cards in the DC Heroes Role Playing Game with a friend.

  2. I'd been thinking about Jeff a lot lately and wanted to put this down somewhere. It felt good to think about it. Whenever I get discouraged I always try to think of this story as proof that I'm on the right path, that I've been on it all along. The reason: it really is one of my most vivid memories. I feel like I'm really supposed to do something with comics, or else I wouldn't remember my first one so vividly.